Thursday, January 22, 2009

Where Did YawnBuster Come from?

When someone is addressing a group, a yawn serves two purposes. One, it tells the speaker - the rare one who cares to notice it - that someone is bored. Two, it produces more yawns, which in turn tell the speaker... well, you get the picture.

I was fortunate to be part of the innovation process that led to YawnBuster, and in this post I'll try to capture some of it.

When one person speaks and others listen in a moderate size group, one thing that often breaks down is two-way communication.

Suppose you are in the audience. If you let this person go on rambling, you get one-way monologue. If you interrupt too many times, the speaker may lose the thread and everyone ends up in a mess.

Now let's see this from the speaker's perspective. If I talk non-stop, I may end up getting bored of my own voice. If I encourage people to talk, someone could easily go off on a tangent.

Clearly, what is needed is a way to present, where four conditions are satisfied.

  1. The speaker can control the amount of interaction
  2. The interaction serves a specific purpose: energizes the audience, creates fun, provides a breather and so on
  3. Everyone has a way to participate
  4. The interaction is organized and guided by some kind of a structure. (Sometimes, stating it negatively is more emphatic. So let's just say: No chaos.)
These conditions point to a non-trivial problem. One needs a concept that helps us put our heads around this problem. One such concept is a Group Activity.

A Group Activity is initiated by the speaker: "Okay, let's play a game of Bingo!" The design of the activity is based on its purpose: "We're going to get you thinking with this brainstorming session", or "We will cool off a bit with this trivia game". Everyone can participate - directly, or indirectly : "Let's have a show of hands". The Group Activity's structure guides what happens next: "Now, it's Group B's turn." A certain order prevails, even as people participate: "Your time is up", or "Let's put together all the key takeaways now".

With the idea of Group Activity at the center, a framework for group activity facilitation evolved. The facilitation framework minimizes the speaker's workload, by doing many of the things that involve keeping the audience on track.

How do you classify myriads of Group Activities that are possible? A taxonomy of group activities fell in place: participation enhancer activities, collaboration activities, breather activities. Trainers could choose from icebreakers, activators, group exercises, energizer games and closers.

Research by eLearning Guild shows PowerPoint to be the tool most commonly used by trainers. This should surpise nobody, we all do it. It became clear then, that the best way to provide this technology was as Flash templates for PowerPoint.

In short, we had created a way to easily build and also to professionally facilitate group activities with minimal effort.

The last act was to pick a name for this software. What's in a name? A lot, one would think, especially when you stumble upon a name like YawnBuster. So we chose it, and YawnBuster was born.


  1. May sound simple, but creating and using effective Group activity in a classroom can well be a challenge sometimes. The key here is to engage the group in a 'learning' activity while inducing the element of fun. Finally, the actual creation of a group activity should not be daunting task to the facilitator. YawnBuster addresses all these convincingly and some more.

  2. Your post have the information that is help full and very informative. I would like you to keep up the good work you know how to make your post understandable for most of the people.
    Thumbs up and Thanks.